Scientists find vegetable and meat-based soups can halt the life cycle of killer malarial parasite

Home-made broths to treat malaria? Scientists test vegetable and meat-based soups brought in by London schoolchildren and find they can halt the life cycle of killer malarial parasite

  • Of 56 tested soups, at least five had abilities to curb parasite growth 
  • Two had abilities comparable to anti-malarial drugs, findings show
  • The researchers don’t know what ingredient in the soups were responsible 

Home-made chicken broths and vegetable soups have the potential to treat malaria, scientists claim.

Imperial College London researchers tested 56 family recipes, brought in by children from one primary school.

Two were as powerful as anti-malarial drugs in stopping the growth of the parasites that carry the killer infection. 

Flavours varied from chicken to vegetable, which left the experts baffled as to what the common malaria-fighting ingredient was. 

But the study suggests natural resources could combat the killer disease amid the emergence of drug-resistant strains.

A study which tested 56 family recipes of broth found at least five interrupted the life cycle of the most deadly malarial parasite (stock photo)

Professor Jake Baum and colleagues warned the need for new drugs is essential to eradicate malaria, caused by the parasite Plasmodium. 

Found in more than 100 countries, it kills around 430,000 people worldwide every year and infects almost 220million people.

The study, published in Archives of Disease in Childhood, is the first to investigate if broths and soups hold the answer to fighting malaria.

It follows the creation of artemesin, an antimalarial which originates from Qinghao – used in traditional Chinese herbal medicine to treat fever.

Pupils at Eden Primary School in Haringey, of various ethnic backgrounds, were asked to bring in samples of home-made soup broths.

The traditional recipes had been passed down through generations in their families for the treatment of fever.

Of the 60 broths brought in, 56 met the right criteria for testing, not being too dense for filtering or heavy in oil.

The researchers wanted to see if any of the broths were able to stop the growth of parasites when they are sexually immature and unable to cause symptoms.

They also wanted to see if the broths blocked the parasites from sexually maturing,  the point at which they become a gametocytes.

Gametocytes are what circulate in the blood stream of a person with malaria. When a mosquito bites an infected human, it ingests the gametocytes and is able to transmit the disease to more people. 

Filtered extracts of each of the 56 broths were incubated for 72 hours with different cultures of P. falciparum in a petri dish.

P. falciparum is the deadliest species, causing almost all malaria deaths. Scientists have warned it has developed resistance to drugs. 

Five of the broths curbed growth of the sexually immature parasite by more than 50 per cent, results showed. 

In two of these, the effect was comparable with dihydroartemisinin – recommended as the first-line treatment by the World Health Organization.   

Four separate other broths were more than 50 per cent effective at blocking sexual maturation, so potentially stopping malarial transmission. 

The team also noted many broth samples increased the rate of parasite growth or sexual maturation. 

The recipes for each of the broths, which varied between vegetarian, chicken, or beef based, had no particular common ingredient.

The active ingredients in the broths studied are yet to be identified and tested in clinical trials, cautioned the researchers.

They said: ‘The utility of any broth found to have antimalarial activity will, of course, depend significantly on standardisation of soup preparation.

‘This journey, mirroring that of artemisinin from the Qinghao herb, may as yet reveal another source of potent anti-infective treatment.’


Malaria is a life-threatening tropical disease spread by mosquitoes. 

It is one of the world’s biggest killers, claiming the life of a child every two minutes, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Most of these deaths occur in Africa, where 250,000 youngsters die from the disease every year. 

Malaria is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, of which five cause malaria.

The Plasmodium parasite is mainly spread by female Anopheles mosquitoes.

When an infected mosquito bites a person, the parasite enters their bloodstream. 

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Feeling hot and shivery
  • Headaches
  • Vomiting 
  • Muscle pain
  • Diarrhoea

These usually appear between a week and 18 days of infection, but can taken up to a year or occasionally even more.

People should seek medical attention immediately if they develop symptoms during or after visiting a malaria-affected area.

Malaria is found in more than 100 countries, including:

  • Large areas of Africa and Asia
  • Central and South America
  • Haiti and the Dominican Republic
  • Parts of the Middle East
  • Some Pacific Islands 

A blood test confirms a diagnosis. 

In very rare cases, malaria can be spread via blood transfusions. 

For the most part, malaria can be avoided by using insect repellent, wearing clothes that cover your limbs and using an insecticide-treated mosquito net. 

Malaria prevention tablets are also often recommended. 

Treatment, which involves anti-malaria medication, usually leads to a full recovery if done early enough.

Untreated, the infection can result in severe anaemia. This occurs when the parasites enter red blood cells, which then rupture and reduce the number of the cells overall.

And cerebral malaria can occur when the small blood vessels in the brain become blocked, leading to seizures, brain damage and even coma. 

Source: NHS Choices